It's Electric - Keith Emerson: "I Didn't Know How To Turn On My First Moog"

Keith Emerson rehearsing for ELP's Works tour
(Image: © Getty Images)

It’s taken several attempts to get hold of you. Apparently you’ve been having problems with your phone.

I’m completely hopeless with phones. When one breaks, I just go out and buy another.

That’s ironic, given that you’re seen as a technological pioneer in music. Is it true that you didn’t know how to turn on your first Moog synthesiser when you got it in the seventies?

That’s very true. It was a huge contraption with all of these wires protruding. My father was a telephone engineer and it reminded me of being with him at his work. I knew that if it played music as well as looking odd, it would impress a lot of people. I saw potential in the Moog because the organ and piano are very static instruments. I wanted to make keyboards a little bit more theatrical, to compete with the guitar players.

How technological are you? Have you ever set the Sky+ app to record a TV show using your iPhone?

Those things drive me insane, particularly when you go out to dinner and there’s a family with children who sit around with those things [mobiles] and twiddle them. When I went out to dinner with my parents, I was told to sit up, behave and enjoy the conversation.

Have you watched TV on your phone?

Oh no, no, no. I’d never go that far.

Do you have a Sat Nav?

I have one in my car in Santa Monica – and the damned thing never works.

Back when we had VCRs, could you programme one?

I knew how to plug them in, but I was very fortunate to have road crew around me and they’d come round and wire them up for me.

Have you ever assembled a set of drawers from IKEA?

A what?

Furniture that comes in kit form, which you self-assemble.

No, I’ve never done that. From IKEA, you say? It sounds like something that I’d leave to the girlfriend.

The handwriting of the current generation now resembles hieroglyphics because they’re more used to keypads than pen and paper.

Yeah, it’s a problem. I’m very lucky to have a girlfriend who’s in tune with playing the piano and writing – she’s Japanese – but she uses the computer to transcribe things for long periods of time. She once spent thirty-six hours on it.

Consecutively?

Yeah. I don’t get to see very much of her.

Emerson: "Our road crew would come round and wire the VCR up for me"

Emerson: "Our road crew would come round and wire the VCR up for me"
(Image: © Getty Images)

Is it fair to call you a technophobe?

Probably so, yeah. I don’t like technology. It’s the whole reason why I’m going back to playing solo piano and scoring music for string quartets.

So is the world going to hell in a rocket-powered, driverless handcart?

Yeah, maybe, but now that technology’s here, you can’t take it away. Younger people have grown up on it, for all its faults. It’s up to old farts like me to get used to it. Either that or get left behind.

This article originally appeared in Classic Rock #200.

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